Mr Steve Chia Kiah Hong:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) how easy is it for people to sneak into Singapore by using fake or stolen passports; (b) how did the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority fail to detect (i) a Filipina who returned to Singapore 12 times using a different passport; (ii) a China woman who returned to Singapore twice using a different passport; (iii) the Croatian war criminal, General Ante Gotovina, who sneaked into Singapore thrice undiscovered in 2003; and (c) how do all these security breaches portend our homeland security’s ability to guard against terrorist infiltration.
Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee:
Mr Speaker, Sir, in 2005, ICA cleared more than 130 million people through our checkpoints. Given the sheer volume of travellers, it is not reasonable to expect ICA to be able to pick out every single mala fide visitor. No country has achieved such standards based on current technology. ICA takes an approach that balances security imperatives with clearance efficiency, adopting a multi-layered people clearance framework to sieve out and prevent the entry of undesirable persons.
Multi-Layered People Clearance Framework
2 We currently require foreigners holding certain travel documents to apply for visas before they arrive in Singapore. ICA would only approve the application if ICA assesses that their visit to Singapore is bona fide. The traveller’s particulars, facial image and visa information will be transmitted to ICA’s checkpoint clearance system prior to his arrival in Singapore. This helps to detect travellers who attempt to enter Singapore with a tampered passport, or without a valid visa.
3 At the checkpoints, all travellers arriving or departing Singapore are subject to face-to-face immigration checks and passport screening. ICA has developed an integrated people screening system known as Matrix. This system is capable of high speed, accurate travel document detection and counter-forging capabilities. The travellers’ particulars will also be checked against our records. In addition, ICA officers will conduct risk profiling by asking them questions on why they are visiting Singapore, and observe their reactions.
4 Should a traveller fail to meet our entry requirements, react suspiciously or if his purpose of entry is doubtful, he will be referred to the Duty Officer at the checkpoint for more in-depth checks.
5 In 2005, ICA detected about 1,000 foreign visitors who attempted to enter Singapore using dubious travel documents. Another 78 foreign visitors were detected attempting entry by impersonation i.e. using passports that belong to someone else.
6 For travellers suspected to be ex-immigration offenders or persons of security interest, ICA will run their fingerprints through the Biometric Database for Immigration Clearance (BDIC) System which was introduced in June last year.
Attempts By Foreigners To Enter Illegally
7 Sir, as for the three cases of illegal entry that Mr Steve Chia mentioned, the Filipina and Chinese women had used genuine passports issued by the proper authorities under a different identity to re-enter Singapore. Therefore, it is not just Singapore that must ensure that only bona fide travellers are allowed in. Other countries must also play their role to ensure that their passport issuance procedures and controls are robust.
8 Combating this modus operandi was one of the main reasons for introducing the BDIC system. In fact, it was the alertness of the ICA officer to take and screen the Filipina’s fingerprints through this system that she was caught. As for the Chinese woman, she was eventually detected by the Police’s crime database upon her arrest.
9 Since the implementation of the BDIC system, ICA has detected more than 700 ex-immigration offenders and other persons on record attempting to enter through our checkpoints by using false identities.
10 As for the stolen passport used by the Croatian war criminal, at that time, our checkpoints did not have real-time access to Interpol's database.
11 There is a limitation to the number of lost and stolen foreign passports that can be blacklisted in our database. We understand that Interpol currently has more than 10 million lost or stolen passport records in its database. Obviously it is not practical for any country to simply store all these into its database. As such, ICA had to prioritise in deciding which lost or stolen passport information should be listed in its blacklist.
12 Even if ICA were to increase its capacity to store information on lost passports, it can only store a fraction of the number of passports reported lost or stolen by Interpol. It is for this reason that ICA is actively engaging Interpol on how ICA can have access to the new Mobile Interpol Network Data (MIND) system that will facilitate realtime screening against Interpol's database during immigration clearance.
13 The false identity in the passport used by the war criminal was also unknown and unavailable at the time of his purported travels in Europe and the region, including Singapore in 2003.
Measures to Enhance Forgery Detection
14 Sir, whilst it is impossible for ICA to detect every single mala fide traveller, what we can do is to make it as difficult as possible for undesirable persons to slip into or out of Singapore. That is why when we discover shortcomings or gaps in our systems or procedures, we will analyse what went wrong, and take prompt corrective action.
15 In this regard, ICA is pursuing several new measures to deter and detectforeigners who attempt to use fake or stolen passports to enter Singapore.
Collaborating with Home Team Agencies and Foreign Counterparts
16 For example, apart from listing lost or stolen foreign passports (including blank passports) in ICA’s clearance system whenever it receives such information from its foreign counterparts, ICA has been beefing up its intelligence capabilities. ICA works closely with Home Team agencies and its foreign counterparts to issue regular intelligence alerts to frontline officers on the latest modus operandi of passport abusers.
Leveraging on Technology
Interpol's Lost and Stolen Passport System
17 In addition, ICA has been actively engaging Interpol to share information on lost and stolen passports. A project, expected to be completed by the end of this year will leverage on Interpol’s database system to allow online checks at the checkpoints for passports that have been reported lost or stolen.
Facial & Photo Recognition
18 ICA is also studying enhancing the BDIC system to make use of facial and photo recognition technology to enable real-time screening of travellers against a database that includes known terrorists and wanted persons during immigration clearance. This will help us detect any person assuming a different identity or using a different passport to gain entry into Singapore.
19 Also, later this year, ICA plans to start issuing biometric passports, and will equip the checkpoints with scanners that can read biometric passports. As more countries issue biometric passports, this will further restrict the space for terrorists’ movement by tightening passport controls.
20 ICA will continue to review and enhance its multi-layered people clearance framework to deter undesirable persons from using fake or stolen passports to enter Singapore.